More from my devotional on the symbols of John, the week on Jesus as the bread of life.
Scripture: John 6:60-71
After Jesus has told the crowds that he is the bread of life, many of those following him turn away. The idea of eating his flesh and blood—availing oneself of his death—was apparently something they would not believe.
Matthew and Mark have a turning point where Jesus’ ministry goes from a more public phase to a phase where Jesus is more isolated with his disciples. This change happens after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah. If John has such a turning point, it is here, when many of those following him turn away. The sticking point seems to be eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood, perhaps a symbolic allusion to his atoning death. What will they then do with his resurrection, especially when they are confronted with its reality in judgment? John uses the language of God’s will to express this mystery. He “has given” ultimate faith to some.
In its symbolism, it is possible that much of the imagery in John is meant to mirror the current situation of John’s community. On a previous day, we saw that John’s community (probably at Ephesus) had experienced a split (1 John 2:19). The group that left was probably Docetist, the group mentioned in yesterday’s devotional (see 1 John 4:2). And if Jesus did not come in the flesh, then he did not die for sins, which might explain some of 1 John’s comments on those who deny the need for cleansing (e.g., 1:8, 10). This incident in John 6 may allude to what happened in John’s own community, with some leaving because they could not accept Jesus in the flesh.
At some point, we may face a crisis that will either draw us closer to God or reveal that we do not have the faith to follow him fully. Especially in Christian leaning countries, it is easy to be a Christian. We may like to think we are picked on, but we have no idea what it really means to be persecuted for our faith. In fact, sometimes Christians can bring on conflict because they themselves are unnecessarily provocative. But crises often reveal our true hearts. Those who abandon God in a crisis are often simply revealing how their heart had always been. Others respond like Jesus’ core followers: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Father, give us faith to follow you not only in the easy times but in the hard times as well.
“God our Savior… wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:3-4
Sidenotes--I have been increasingly impressed at how much John uses predestination and election language throughout. Arminians like myself take this as "after the fact" language. It is not language used to predict but to explain why so many do not believe. Such language becomes harmful when it is used to exclude potential believers.
So as I've said before, we have to live like anyone can be saved, even if you are someone whose theology, like John Calvin, believes that God has mysteriously decreed who will be saved. But this is also a reminder that the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition is not by nature a fundamentalist tradition that feels compelled to take this language literally, just as we don't take OT passages literally when they say God sent evil spirit on people (e.g., 1 Samuel 16:14-23; 18:10; 19:9; 24:1). We would say more precisely that God allowed it to happen (e.g., 1 Chron. 21:1; James 1:13).